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Lucy Liyou Dog Dreams (개꿈)

Bringing together ambient music, impressionism, sound poetry, and jazz, Dog Dreams is a rumination on the doublesidedness of trauma and love, on how one does not undercut the other, but are rather interlocked in an affective dialectic. Although its name comes from the literal translation of the Korean term “개꿈”—which could mean anything from fanciful daydreams to nightmarish terrors, but always alluding to the idea that they are nonsensical, unrealistic, or simply silly—Lucy Liyou’s sophomore album instead takes seriously these questions of why we dream what we dream, what slumber offers us that sober reality fails to, and which forgotten desires dare only emerge as our bodies go to rest.

Like all dreams, Dog Dreams is at once personal and communal—who amongst us, after all, hasn’t once excitedly shared with a friend an especially kooky dream that we had? Although composed and written by Liyou based on the artist’s own recurrent dreams, the album is in fact coproduced alongside musician Nick Zanca—formerly known under the alias Mister Lies—first working asynchronously, and then coming together to complete the album at Zanca’s studio in Ridgewood, New York. Throughout the recording process, Liyou and Zanca improvised on the spur, allowing images conjured up by Liyou’s memories to proliferate into more daydreams, flights of fancy, and unbound, speculative whimsy. Shored up by the vibrant synergy between the two, the final suite is a taut thirty-five-minute crescendo of sound that feels boundlessly evocative. As Ernst Bloch tells us, dreams do not end in the moment of awakening. Rather, they seep into the fabric of the waking world and become “afterimages”—or, in this case, reverberant echoes—of the persistent longing for the not-yet-conscious awareness of future possibilities. And that is precisely what Dog Dreams is: the lingering notes from an ongoing dialogue that insists on lending sound to our unspoken, unspeakable, or feeling-as-though-unspeakable desires to desire more.

The album’s second track, “April in Paris” (봄), serves as the album’s centerpiece. A reinterpretation of an old Vernon Duke jazz standard that is as austere as it is poignant, the song moves its landscape from balmy, springtime Paris to a cemetery in Philadelphia, where the narrator reflects on a sexual assault, the memory of which they fear will never leave them. The “April” in the original number here takes the form of a person: someone that longs for the changing of seasons (“I can be everything / A son / A daughter / Spring”) at the same time that they are aggrieved at the violation that precipitates this change (“Sometimes / I worry I want to transition / To feel clean again”). If the original composition is buoyed by starry-eyed wonder for the excitements of life yet-to-be explored, Liyou’s rendition—inflected through Andrew Weathers’ guitar strums and synths—is more raw, more capacious, more vexed. After a brief lull, the final two minutes of the song begin with a radio interview with a woman (who, at one point, softly confesses: “The outer person isn’t necessarily always the inner person”) that leads into a torrential downpour of sound, which then comes to an abrupt end—or non-end—a sonic metaphor for how memories of assault rear their ugly heads at our most vulnerable and seize us by surprise. Liyou’s “April in Paris” dreams of alterity—of chestnut blossoms, holiday tables under the trees, and of being “everything”—yet it does so without ever denying or dismissing the pain, rage, and grief that this alterity often arises in conjunction with.

Rather fittingly, “April in Paris” is bookended by two love songs—the titular “Dog Dreams” and “Fold the Horse” (종이접기)—both disarmingly earnest pleas for one’s devotion to be returned in kind. In contrast to their debut Welfare / Practice (2022), which blends lush, molten instrumentals with stilted text-to-speech voiceovers, here we hear Liyou’s own voice—as artist, dreamer, and romantic—rupturing the densely experimental texture of their music and grounding us in the present, like a loved one’s strong embrace that keeps us aloft. This embrace, however, cannot shield us from all that we try to repel, no matter how much we might wish it. The closing track, “Fold the Horse,” contemplates a fortune teller’s caprice, hurt and prosperity neatly folded into one single square piece of paper, the severity of its judgment indifferent to our distress. By contrast, “Dog Dreams” is about the desperateness with which we cling onto those we trust: the song is based on one of Liyou’s dreams, where they are pulled to the shore while drowning by someone that they at first thought was their mother, but is in fact a close friend.

The common thread that runs through Dog Dreams, then, is the deceptive simplicity and elusiveness of survival, the strain of which erupts into the devastating refrain in “Fold the Horse” (“what is it you require / for you to hold me awhile / please don’t let me go / please don’t let me go”), the brassy, discordant ambience in “April in Paris,” and, most hauntingly, the opening section of “Dog Dreams”: a staticky staccato made up of saliva sounds, dilated and rendered unfamiliar through Zanca’s adroit mixing. The title track of the album, “Dog Dreams” makes clear the significance of the body to Liyou’s artistic vision, as well as the difficulties in trying to inhabit and stay tethered to said body. Before the narrator is able to call out to their friend—“why can’t you depend on me? / when I need someone to need me?”—all they are able to vocalize are the smacking of tongues, the opening and closing of lips, the nervous clacking of teeth, not yet sure what exactly it is that they long to ask for. The disparate soundscape that Liyou weaves together, to that end, is not dissimilar from Myung Mi Kim’s definition of the lyric: a song that strives to embody the “prosody of one’s living”—its joys and injuries in equal measure—and “a valence of first and further tongues.” And, like Kim’s poetry, Liyou’s music is a constellation of “descant, sedimentation, tributaries in any several directions,” all cathected to a voice that pleads even as it is not yet articulate, and a body that continues to seek out love even as it nurses wounds still bloody. In this sense, Dog Dreams is also an aperture, through which we reach what Kathy Acker might call “the space of wonder”—where every desire, no matter how minor, holds weight, where we can let our own dog dreams run free.

released May 12, 2023

© American Dreams Records 2021

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